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THE USE OF GEOPHYSICAL SEISMIC REFRACTION SURVEY IN

GEOTECHNICAL SITE CHARACTERIZATION


Jerry Peprah Owusu, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana
Barbara Peprah, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana
Emmanuel Egyin Hayford, KNUST, Ghana

ABSTRACT
In recent times, geophysical techniques have been employed in engineering investigations. This
is due to its ability to provide large scale information at a relatively cheaper and faster rate compared to
conventional engineering techniques. In this study, the possibility of using seismic refraction survey in
complementing conventional geotechnical techniques in site characterization is explored. The study
specifically attempts to compare the output of subsurface characterization from borehole drilling
information and that from seismic refraction.
Eight boreholes were drilled to a maximum depth of 10m at a site on KNUST campus. Five
profile lines connecting the boreholes were established and seismic refraction survey conducted along
these profile lines. The subsurface characterization from the borehole information indicated three layers
with the results from the seismic refraction also indicating three layers. The outputs of the subsurface
characterization from both geotechnical and seismic refraction methods compared favorably. There is
therefore the possibility of characterizing the subsurface material using seismic refraction survey.

1. INTRODUCTION
Proper design and successful construction of any structure requires an accurate determination or
characterization of the engineering properties of the soils at the site. The conventional way of
characterizing a site is through geotechnical investigations which usually involve borehole drilling and
logging, standard penetration test, field vane test, and laboratory tests on retrieved soil samples. These
tests are performed to obtain information of the engineering properties of soil and rock underlying the
site.
In recent times, geophysical techniques such as seismic refraction and reflection surveys have
been utilized for site investigations (Anderson et al, 2003; Miller et al, 1999; Penumadu et al, 2005).
This non-invasive technique utilizes the refraction and reflection of seismic waves on geologic layers
and rock/soil units in order to characterize the subsurface structure. MASW method was utilized in the
assessment of soil liquefaction potential (Lin et al, 2004). Geophysical seismic surveys are cost
effective, fast and it gives more continuous subsurface information as compared to geotechnical
methods. The objectives of this paper were to characterize the subsurface using conventional
geotechnical methods and seismic refraction method, compare their outputs and explore if there is the
possibility of characterizing the subsurface using seismic refraction survey.
2. METHODOLOGY
2.1. Area of Investigation
The study was carried out at the area in front of the KNUST Faculty of Art Building
(denoted by FA in figure 1 below), down towards the engineering auditorium block (denoted by EA in
figure 1 below). The topography of the study area is steeply sloping from the Faculty of Art building
towards the engineering auditorium area where the land is marshy.

Figure 1: Google Earth Image of Study Area Figure 2: Borehole Points and Seismic Refraction
Profile Lines
Eight boreholes were sunk up to a maximum depth of 10m on the site. Each borehole was logged
during boring to give a description of the different soil materials encountered. The borehole log also had
information on changes in strata, depth to groundwater, and SPT N-Values at 1.5m depth intervals. Five
profile lines connecting the boreholes were established and seismic refraction survey conducted along
these profile lines. The borehole points and profile lines established are also shown in Figure 2.

3. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS

3.1. Geotechnical Characterization


The logs of the borehole were used to characterize the subsurface material by
interpolating between adjoining boreholes. Generally the subsurface profile underlying the study area
consists of three layers. Results obtained using BH7 and BH5 is given in figure 3.
Figure 3: Geotechnical Characterization Model for Profile line number 1 (BH 7 and BH 5)

3.2. Seismic Refraction Survey Characterization


The arrival time of head waves and the distance between geophones and shot locations
were the main field data collected from the seismic refraction survey. This information was used to plot
a time- distance graph from which the velocities and the thicknesses of the seismic layers were
computed. A subsurface seismic characterization model was generated from the thicknesses and
velocities. The results obtained for profile or traverse line 2 is shown in figure 4.
Figure 4: Seismic Characterization Model for Profile line number 2 (BH 6and BH 5)
3.3. Comparison between Subsurface Profiles from Geotechnical and Seismic Refraction Methods
From the study, comparison of results obtained from seismic refraction and geotechnical
methods are made to establish if there is any relationship between the two. Tables of seismic wave
velocities of various types of soils from Ampadu (2015) and Bourbie (1987) were used as a reference to
make some inferences. Comparing the subsurface profiles from geotechnical and seismic refraction
methods, it can be inferred from the characterization models of the five profiles lines that a layer of
saturated clayey sand is sandwiched between loose silty sand materials and saturated clayey silt. The
average thickness obtained for the top layers ranges from 2.9 to 7.05m. The results from the seismic
refraction indicated three layers, with top layer velocity ranging from 350-750 m/s, and a middle layer
velocity ranging from 700-1800 m/s and finally a third layer velocity ranging from 1900-2500m/s.

3.4. Conclusion
The outputs of the subsurface characterization from both geotechnical and geophysical
methods compared favorably. From the results, it can be deduced that both the seismic refraction
survey and geotechnical characterization should not be used in isolation since they both have their
advantages and disadvantages. Hence one should be used to complement the other. In conclusion, there
is the possibility of characterizing the subsurface material using seismic refraction survey.

4. REFERENCES
Anderson N., Cardimona S., Newton T. (2003). Application of Innovative Nondestructive
Methods to Geotechnical and Environmental Investigations. University of Missouri-Rolla,
Missouri, USA, 13pp

Ampadu S.I.K. (2015). Geotechnical Engineering. Lecture Notes, Kwame Nkrumah


University of Science and Technology, College of Engineering, Kumasi, Ghana.

Bourbie T., Coussy O., Zinszner B. (1988). Acoustics of Porous Media. CRC Press, Boca
Ranton, USA

Lin C.P., Chang C.C., Chang T.S. (2004). The Use of MASW method in the assessment of soil
liquefaction. Soil Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering, Department of Civil Engineering,
National Chiao Tung University, 1001Ta-hsueh Road, Hsinchu, Taiwan October 2004,
vol.24(9): 689-698.

Miller R.D., Xia J., Park C.B., Ivanov J.M. (1999). Multichannel Analysis of Surface Waves to
Map bedrock. The Leading Edge, 18(12), 1392-1396. Kansas Geological Survey, Lawrence,
Kansas, USA.

Penumadu D., Park C. (2005). Multichannel Analysis of Surface Wave Method for
Geotechnical Site Characterization. Earthquake Engineering and Soil Dynamics; Austin,
USA, pp. 1-10.
Author Profile
Jerry Owusu Peprah (Presenting author)
Geological Engineering Department
Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
Phone: +233542627389
Email: jerrycalves@gmail.com

I am a first degree graduate of geological engineering from KNUST. I obtained my bachelors degree on
July, 2016 with First Class Honours. I am currently posted to the National Waste Bin, Takoradi, to do my
national service. My research interests are: Environmental Geophysics, Numerical modelling,
Experimental Modelling and Geostatistical modelling as applied in geotechnical engineering problems.
For two months now I use most of my discretionary time to read geotechnical modelling journals and
also practice my hands on some programming languages as it will come in handy in the modelling.